Racially Diverse Schools? Some Districts, Yes. Others, Not So Much.

The MetroTrends blog marks the start of the new school year with an assessment of the student population, and an interactive graphic that shows how, despite increasing diversity, many of our schools remain segregated.

Fifty million children will start school this week as historic changes are under way in the U.S. public school system. As of 2011 48 percent of all public school students were poor* and this year, students of color will account for the majority of public school students for the first time in US history.

What is surprising about these shifts is that they are not leading to more diverse schools. In fact, the Civil Rights Project has shown that black students are just as segregated today as they were in in the late 1960s, when serious enforcement of desegregation plans first began following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In an increasingly diverse society, our public schools give us the unique opportunity to cross traditional racial and class boundaries. Ideally, they would be spaces where students can interact with and learn from peers with backgrounds different than their own, ensuring that future generations have friends outside their own racial group and helping mold them into productive members of a multi-racial society. Unfortunately, this potentially productive exchange is not happening in most public schools across the country.

Where do we stand in Georgia? That depends on where you are. In Cobb County, for example, 42% of the student body is white. Yet, 72% of those students attend a majority white school. Compare that to Gwinnett County, where 31% of the school population is white, and only 39% of those white students attend a majority white school.

A more striking example exists in a comparison of schools in Fulton County vs. schools in Chatham County. In Chatham, 45% of white students attend a majority white school. 28% of the district’s students are white. In Fulton, of the 26% of the student body that is white, a whopping 70% attend class in a majority white school.

Here is the interactive map from which you can determine the racial composition of students in each county during the 2011-2012 school year, nationwide. Mouse over a county to see it’s percentages.

In addition to the map showing the percentage of whites attending majority white schools, there are similar maps showing the share of blacks and Latinos attending majority non-white schools.

The maps don’t tell the entire story, obviously, Once the population of one racial group gets above a certain level, it becomes more difficult to achieve racial balance. Take Forsyth County, which is 75% white, yet 99% of white students attend a majority white school. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Clayton County’s schools are only 3% white, making it almost an impossibility for students to attend a majority white school. None do.

In a fully homogenous society, one would expect the composition of the student population in each school to match the percentage of each group within the population of the entire county. While we won’t get there completely, it’s clear that some districts are closer to that goal than others are. Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the mid-60s, forced desegregation via busing students to faraway schools was tried, and was largely abandoned by the min 90s. Voluntary “minority to majority” enrollment systems have been tried, and some continue through today.

Could charter schools be part of the answer? While some have argued that charter schools are no more diverse than the public schools they replace, other studies have shown they do increase diversity.

What else can or should be done to try to achieve racial balance in our schools? Tell us in the comments.


  1. drjay says:

    i don’t understand why racial balance would be important…i think neighborhood schools that can be a nexis for instilling community pride and where kids don’t have 90 minute bus rides make so much more sense…maybe that makes me a pollyanna, but that’s my opinion…

  2. saltycracker says:

    No reason to gerrymander school districts or neighborhoods. It will all work out when we return to education that focuses on producing responsible individuals in their community by achieving their potential.

    Right now what is, sadly, culturally acceptable, is identifying with or paying off the unfortunate (vs. helping) or the looters (of all levels) enjoying unearned, untaxed gains.

  3. Ellynn says:

    First you have to understand the problem is more then diversity. It has alot to do with not only local neighborhood schools, but also with the type of programs, urban vs rural, the local tax base, the cost of living and working in the district and forced requirements on some of the schools due to the failed school clause of No Child Left Behind (which in 2011 was still in play)

    I’m going to use Chatham County as an example. SCCPS has magnet schools. In some cases this is not the default neighborhood school. Even if you live across the street from Savannah Arts Accademy, your high schooler is not going to attend that school unless they can pass the artistic review for what ever talent they have. Some schools you need to afford to live in area to get the benifit of the system. The marjority white schools are going to be located in the middle to upper middle class areas of the islands and the more rural west side – where parents can afford the houses and commute the 20-30 minutes in to work. Most of the magnet schools are not located in affluant areas. If you live in the fourth district, your schools remain local student bodies, not so much in the first and third district.

    The charters have not always been of mixed backgrounds for who attends because of where the chaters are located themselves. The two year old charter school on Tybee Island is made up of mainly islands and east side students. The bus ride from just Whitmarsh Elem. to Tybee (no stops) is over 20 minutes. If you have a low income parent located more then 20 miles from a chater school, would you wish to have a child on a bus for almost 90 minutes if you include the stops? Same with the charter Ogelthorpe Accademy. Can a low income parent afford driving the 40 minutes in the heart of midtown morning traffic from Liberty City to Sand Fly.

    Then add other non educational items, like sports. Some parents pick schools based on the team that is going to lead to the best sports scholarships.

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